DATED: 17 JUNE 2020
This article looks at the reasons behind the delays at the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate. It also gives a short guide to the probate process and outlines what is involved.
Since spring 2019, solicitors had reported waiting over three months for a Grant of Probate. These delays were sparked by a glitch in new software rolled out to probate registries across England and Wales. This also coincided with a spike in applications, as executors rushed to beat the probate fee hike due to be implemented in April.
In October 2019, the Law Society reported that the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) was ‘optimistic that the probate service will very shortly return to normal levels – applications being granted within 10 working days for solicitors’. HMCTS also said the service should be back to normal in the following weeks.
The COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated delays at the Probate Registry.
12 Weeks to get a Grant of Probate
An article in the Times in June highlights this troubling issue. Yvonne Robertson whose aunt Coral Skingsley died aged 79 in February after a fall, had to wait more than 12 weeks for a Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry. Like many other families facing such delays this caused Yvonne great anxiety. Yvonne was eventually notified by the Probate Registry that the delay had been caused by a shaky signature on Coral’s Will, as a result of the Parkinson’s disease she suffered. Thanks to two of Coral’s friends who posted witness statements to the Probate Registry, the matter was eventually resolved.
Bereavement is challenging enough and when you are dealing remotely with an organisation whose customer services are stretched it can be extremely challenging indeed. Like many people experiencing similar delays, Yvonne said she felt helpless during the process and at the end felt like the Probate Registry had not used its discretion to help move things forward.
Following this report, the Times has since launched a campaign calling for a simpler system – a one-stop shop to ease the administration involved for a loved one after death.
So what is probate?
Probate is the legal and financial process of dealing with the money and possessions of someone who has died and settling the deceased’s estate, including its debts.
In England and Wales, to gain permission to manage the probate process, you need to apply for a Grant of Probate. Only the executor named in the Will can apply for a Grant of Probate to administer the deceased’s estate.
There are also separate rules you must follow if someone dies without a Will - otherwise known as dying intestate - and the intestacy rules will outline who can administer the estate instead.
A Grant of Probate
Before an executor named in a Will can claim, transfer, sell or distribute any assets, they need a Grant of Probate.
The executor of the Will needs to apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate. This legal document gives the executor the authority to administer the estate and distribute the inheritance. The executor cannot obtain assets or settle liabilities in the estate until they receive the Grant of Probate, which is why the current delays at the Probate Registry in issuing this essential document are causing so much anxiety and frustration.
Letters of Administration
The Intestacy Rules specify who is the person entitled to obtain a Grant in an estate where there is no Will. This is a Grant of Letters of Administration and once issued will give that person the same authority as is given by a Grant of Probate. An application will need to be made to the Probate Registry in the same way as for a Grant of Probate.
The probate process
Although every estate is unique and the process can vary depending on the instructions left in the Will - and other factors such as the estate’s assets, its beneficiaries and its creditors - the basic steps involved in probate are as follows:
- Compile all the details of the estate’s assets and debts
- Complete an inheritance tax return and pay any tax due
- Apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate
- On receipt of the Grant of Probate, obtain the assets in the estate and repay the deceased’s outstanding debts
- Once the debts have been settled, distribute the estate in accordance with the Will.
The probate process can be delayed if there are for example any disputes between HMRC, the DWP, beneficiaries or creditors, and of course if the Will is contested.
Appointing a Solicitor to help you is be a good idea and, if you are dealing with a complex estate, essential.
How long should the process take?
Once you have submitted your application to the Probate Registry, it should take between three to four weeks to receive a Grant of Probate. At the moment however with the delays at the Probate Registry Grants are taking up to three months to issue.
Without complications, on average a straightforward probate takes between six to nine months to complete. Estates that own property that are difficult to value or have complex assets– such as rare collectables - will take longer to deal with as this will delay filing the required estate tax return to HMRC.
Girlings Solicitors experienced probate team
Many of our clients have experienced delays in receiving a Grant of Probate, as in the case of Yvonne Robinson outlined above. Girlings fully supports the Times campaign for an easier and less stressful system which will prevent the delays to Grant of Probate applications that are currently causing undue stress for grieving families.
If you are an executor, our experienced Private Client team can help guide you through the probate process, or even deal with the estate on your behalf as the Executor. If the Will is contested, our expert Contested Probate team can also help.
For further information on our probate service contact a member of the Private Client team who will be happy to assist you.
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